Long goodbyes

I have lived in New York City for the past eight years, and come this August I will be moving away to earn an MFA at Iowa State University in Creative Writing and Environment. Though it’s still up in the air whether or not I will return to NYC after I finish the program, I have been saying my goodbyes as if this were for good.

During the past few months since accepting the place at Iowa State, I have been spending some time out of the city for various reasons: a writers’ retreat in California, my brother’s wedding in Indiana, and other, small trips here and there. And during every trip I’ve felt like a rubber band stretched just shy of snapping apart. Coming back to New York felt like relaxing back into my original shape, one that feels as easy as the grid of Manhattan.

On one recent trip, my boyfriend and I visited some of my family in Virginia. My paternal grandmother left for the Philippines a few days ago, so much of my extended family gathered the weekend before she left to say goodbye.

I have a large family, but our interactions and reunions are somewhat infrequent (at least, my interactions and reunions with them are somewhat infrequent), and so I’ve forgotten what family get-togethers are like. The chaos of being in one place, the constant conversations that branch and split and spiderweb across a room. And, of course, the long goodbyes.

As a kid these used to annoy me. After hours spent at a relative’s house, playing with other kids our age, my siblings and I would inevitably ask, “When are we going to go home?” And our parents would answer with a vague, “Soon,” and continue their conversations with the other adults. Even as we made progress toward leaving—moving from the dining room to the living room to the hall closet where we put our shoes and jackets—the time from the initial inquiry to the actual act of leaving felt like hours.

When my boyfriend and I went to Virginia, our goodbyes at the end of the visit weren’t long like this. They were just long enough to convey the message: “Goodbye for now. See you later.”

Maybe I feel some residual aversion to goodbyes because of the way they tended to linger in my family. Since coming to New York, I’ve become the type of person to slip, hopefully unnoticed, out of a party or gathering of any kind, moving on to the next thing, going to the next place. But as I prepare for leaving this city, I find myself taking more scenic routes, prolonging my time with my feet on the pavement. I take it in, counting the steps from home to wherever I am going.

And the packing process for the upcoming move has felt incredibly daunting. I hadn’t really started until this week, and I have this constant panic in the back of my mind that I didn’t actually give myself enough time. Though we don’t have many possessions, there has still been a steady accumulation of things, first from four years of college, then from four years of living in this apartment building. It’s amazing how things get lost in the back of a deep drawer, or fall into the spaces behind bookcases. As I find more and more things I have to say goodbye to, I find that I want more time to say it.

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